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Alexandra Gomes

Sharifa S. Alshalfan

Asseel Al-Ragam

Tanushree Agarwal

October 19th, 2022

Reimagining Public Space Through Cards in Kuwait

0 comments

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

Alexandra Gomes

Sharifa S. Alshalfan

Asseel Al-Ragam

Tanushree Agarwal

October 19th, 2022

Reimagining Public Space Through Cards in Kuwait

0 comments

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

by Alexandra Gomes, Sharifa Alshalfan, Asseel Al-Ragam & Tanushree Agarwal

Children playing the Kuwaitscapes at the ASCC event. Source: Alexandra Gomes

‘Kuwaitscapes’ is a card game developed from the LSE Kuwait Programme research project ‘Public Space in Kuwait: From user behaviour to policy-making‘ that aims at promoting a fun and engaged reflection and conversation about public space in Kuwait and those using it. The game allows children and adults to understand some of the challenges and opportunities facing Kuwait’s residential neighbourhoods and everyday life, and to reimagine public space through a game of cards.

The team was pleased to be able to launch the game in Kuwait, at a public event that took place at the Natural History, Science and Technology, Arabic Islamic Science and Space building at the Sheikh Abdullah Al Salem Cultural Centre (ASCC). The cultural centre was a perfect fit for the launch as the architectural buildings and playful design attracts a variety of visitors and engages with the urban context – a place where you can find interactive exhibitions that include spaceships, dinosaurs or to explore the human body. With the incredible organisational support of Nada ElGhossein and the Centre’s team, the ‘lab’ space was ready for the launch. It was a colourful, fun, and large room decorated as an experimental lab, but with the flexibility and adaptability to be the set of the event. The tables and coloured sofas were arranged in sets of six allowing participants to organise themselves in groups and play Kuwaitscapes, with the space matching the informality and colourfulness of the card game.

Despite a sandstorm – a climatic event that is happening more frequently in the last decade in this part of the world – we managed to hold the event and to attract a number of children and their parents. This group helped promote one of the more special workshops that the Kuwaitscapes team has co-organised. A second challenge was the language of the cards and slides prepared for the launch (all in English), that limited the participation and engagement of children and adults that do not speak English.

Figure 1: ASCC outdoor space

One of the main aims of the event was to create a fun and engaged session with the participants (more than half of them children) that could help them understand the full context of the research ahead of playing the game. Having that in mind the event was divided into three main phases. The first phase began before the workshop started and while participants were arriving; the second explained the context of the game; and the third was where everyone began to play.

While waiting to start, participants were asked to engage with the research underpinning the game of cards, and to draw their own ideas for what they thought was missing in Kuwait’s streets. This allowed them to reflect on their own lived experiences. Participants drew trees, flowers, bikes and cycle lanes, and animals that were missing in Kuwait streetscapes. However, the dominant element of all drawings was people: people walking, running, and randomly meeting in public space (the aspiration of a young teenage girl). This reflected the feeling that the streets of Kuwait are missing people, the basic ‘element’ to make streets safer and livelier. These drawings were then affixed on a white board where they were left until the end of the event so that anyone could revisit them at any point during the event.

Figure 2: Drawings from participants

In the second phase of the event, the team engaged with the audience through a presentation which combined photos and questions directed to them. This presentation allowed participants to discuss the challenges of Kuwait’s planning and urban design – such as its car-centric development, the impact of single-family housing in residential neighbourhoods, low public transport use (especially from Kuwaiti citizens), high motorisation rates and the impact of cars on street occupation, walkability, health and climate change. Questions included:

Who came here today by car or taxi, and why?

Where do you walk more: on the streets of Kuwait, or in shopping malls as the Avenues, and why?

These questions led some of the younger participants to join the adults in a debate that including issues such as the lack of street comfort, poor transport alternatives, lack of street safety, and the need for more creativity in public space design. One of the participants raised the COVID curfew in the discussion to illustrate the need for a change in Kuwait’s urban development:

It seems that the car dominates the neighbourhood rather than the residents. We all remember when we had the lockdown, when we had two hours to walk around… I think it was the first time I saw my neighbours and got to know them. And I think that every neighbourhood in Kuwait still misses that’.

Figure 3: Kuwaitscapes launch event evening

This discussion was followed by the introduction of the Public space in Kuwait research through a series of images comparing streets in Kuwait with other international streets (e.g. in Paris) with the title ‘why did we look into public space in Kuwait?’. This phase finished with the introduction of the card game Kuwaitscapes, its aims, strategy and an introductory video.

The third and last phase of the event was dedicated to playing the game. Each group of participants was given a set of cards and provided with step-by-step rules of the game, until they were able to play themselves. Tables with only children, with only adults and a few that combined the two were used to promote different types of engagement between participants and the game. This also allowed participants to recognise and engage with some of the elements and challenges discussed in the previous phases of the event while reimagining public spaces, using the different tool cards.

Figure 4: The most desired card for young participants

The event finished by giving away cards to all the attendees and an engaged post event chat between the different groups of participants, where further ideas were exchanged about spaces for children, healthy living, and public transport use. Future potential collaborations were some of the promises made at the end.

This was a unique event, one that made the team reflect on methods of public engagement, in particular with children. We have learned that the space informality, flexibility, and design are important; short and engaged times of communication are more adequate; drawing can be great as a form of self-expression; and finally, that the use of visuals (e.g. photos) and questions allow a wider engagement in discussions and are fundamental to the success of an event like this one. Language was a barrier that unfortunately was not possible to address at the time.

The Kuwaitscapes team wants to acknowledge and thank Nada ElGhossein and the ASCC team for their support in helping us launch Kuwaitscapes and for making this event happen after so many challenges. A special thanks to Jana, Mohammad, and Yousef Alkheshnam and Aziz Alsabih for their engaged presence and support at the event and with the participants. Finally, the team also appreciates the presence and engagement of all the participants including public space and transport activists and creative actors such as Jassim Al-Awadhi from Kuwait Commute, Dr Ghassan Al-Othman, Samia Alduaij and Architect Sura Saud AlSabah, among others.

Note: The Kuwaitscapes game is now fully translated into Arabic and available to download.
Photo credits: Alexandra Gomes

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About the author

Alexandra Gomes

Alexandra Gomes is a Research Fellow and responsible for coordinating LSE Cities’ spatial analysis across a range of projects. She is currently completing her PhD at UCL Bartlett School of Planning. At LSE Cities, she is co-Principal Investigator on the 'Roads as Tools for (Dis)connecting Cities and Neighbourhoods' and 'Public Space in Kuwait' projects, after having coordinated the Resource Urbanisms project. She tweets at @xpgomes3

Sharifa S. Alshalfan

Ms Alshalfan is an architect, urban researcher and educator. She advises the government of Kuwait on urban development projects and is currently part of a team of experts developing housing and urban policy recommendations at Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences. She is a consultant on urban planning on projects with the World Bank and is the project consultant of an LSE Cities research project entitled ‘Public Space in Kuwait’. She tweets at @AlshalfanS

Asseel Al-Ragam

Asseel Al-Ragam is an associate professor of architecture and the Vice Dean for Academic Affairs, Research and Graduate Studies at the College of Architecture at Kuwait University. Her research focuses on urban and architectural development, housing and public space in Kuwait, drawing links between these fields and the broader debate on socio-cultural modernity. She is an architecture and urban planning consultant at the Technical Advisory Committee for Architecture and Urban Planning at the Private University Council in Kuwait. She tweets at @a_alragam

Tanushree Agarwal

Tanushree Agarwal is an Urban Regeneration Consultant at Architecture00. She has a multidisciplinary background in urban design, planning and research with a particular interest in exploring the links between policy and human centered development. She previously worked as an architect and planner in India and has co-authored the research publication ‘(de)Coding Mumbai’ in collaboration sPare. She tweets at @TanushreeA

Posted In: Kuwait

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